The Light at the End of the Tunnel of the Epiphany

SURPRISE! I really came back on Wednesday as promised. Last time, I was discussing how Excellence has to be the standard for the work we do. And I left with the thought that, while Excellence is a pretty word, we have to have a deeper understanding of what we mean by it if we really want to act differently. Toward that end, let’s start with a quote from Tom Peters’ The Little BIG Things

“Has the word ‘EXCELLENCE’ per se been used as a basis for evaluating your actions?”
Let’s immediately break in and dissect this one. When we think of using the concept of Excellence as a basis for evaluating our actions, it is very easy for us to get into “annual performance” mode. That is, “Excellence” becomes a word we prefer to save for our performance reviews. We carefully unwrap it, maybe polish and shine it just a little (not too much, it is very fragile), and then hold it before our boss in wonderment and amazement as the both of us gaze on the beauty of the concept of excellence in what we have done. We and our boss both pay obsequious awe to this strangely wrought idol. Then, once we are convinced our boss has become a believer, we carefully wrap it up to be saved for that next meeting about our performance. Too much use will wear it out, and no one will believe we are truly sincere about this once a year concept.
Plbthttht!! (This is me trying to spell the noise of a raspberry being raspberried.)
I am sadly sure that many people think such an occasional review is, indeed, the epitome of Excellence; that the core of Excellence is an infrequent visit to a few high points we accidently exhibited through the year. Poppycock. Evaluating your actions related to Excellence means more than a quarterly/annual review. Peters goes on to say, “Could you personally call the outcome of each meeting or the nature of the milestones achieved 'EXCELLENT'?"
Ouch! Let’s take another quick pause and ask a couple of questions. When was the last time you were involved in a meeting (probably more important to think about one you led – but any meeting will do) that was Excellent? When was the last time (this is definitely a rhetorical question) you specifically set a personal objective to make a meeting Excellent? Excellence becomes a little tougher to live up to when you start applying it to some of the most boring events of our professional life. Let’s read one last little bit from Peters.
“Key idea: The ‘Excellence Standard’ is not about Grand Outcomes. In Zen-like terms, all we have is today. If the day’s work cannot be assessed as Excellent, then the oceanic overall goal of Excellence has not been advanced. Period.
Now we get to it. Excellence is not a word that is meant to be tossed into the fruit salad of performance reviews, it is not a bon mot to be displayed for the adoring crowd, it is not a meaningless vision statement, it is not lip service to the powers that be. Excellence is a personal decision to take all possible steps to make sure all possible activities reach their highest level.
Auditors pay attention! What is on your schedule tomorrow? Testwork? How are you going to ensure that the tests performed exhibit Excellence? An interview? Where will Excellence come from in that discussion? Preparing documentation? How will that documentation prove Excellence? Hitting a milestone? Does that milestone represent the completion of an adventure in Excellence? A meeting? I’ve probably already beat that dead horse to…well, death. But, what the heck – one more time. If you are leading the meeting, how are you going to ensure that Excellence is achieved? If you are not leading the meeting, how are you going to make sure that you gain or give Excellence? 
Back to what I said in my prior post - Excellence in all things at all times, starting right now. This is a tough standard to apply. But it is how you succeed – personally and as a department – no matter the situation. Good times, bad times, (you know I had my share). If you accept nothing less than Excellence, then you have no option but to take pride in any results that follow.
True confession time – my greatest fear is that I have tried to put too many words around Peters’ basic thoughts. But I believe it is important for auditors to take these concepts, understand what they can mean, and really apply them to the work we do. I’ve survived through a couple of outsourcing waves. I’ve survived through the pendulum swing from compliance audits to process audits to financial audits to operational audits. I’ve survived the best of times and the worst of times. And the one thing I’ve seen is that, no matter the choices, Excellence will win.
So, rather than yammer endlessly, let me refer you back to the original source. Read Tom Peters’ comments. In fact, read what ANYONE has to say on the subject of Excellence. Then take the personal pledge to apply Excellence in all things at all times, starting right now.

(And now, after that stirring ending - face it, made you want to tear up, didn't it? - I have to add another note.  In the time between working on the various drafts of this post and actually attaching another link to Tom Peters' Free Stuff page there has been a new document added - an "Excellence Oath and Credo".  I have only begun to look through it.  However, if it does not serve to reinforce everything I've just said, I'll eat my workpapers.  Man, timing is everything.) 

Posted on Sep 14, 2010 by Mike Jacka

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